Patrician IV: Conquest by Trade PC DVD
Published by: Kalypso Media
Developed by: Gaming Minds Studios
As an economic trading simulation, Patrician III has been the top dog for a fair few years now. In fact Patrician III was essentially a highly polished version of Patrician II, a gold edition if you like, offering an all-round better experience than Patrician II. For its time Patrician III was pretty much all you could wish for in a game of its type. That was a long time ago however, seven years in fact. Some things have changed, Ascaron are now defunct, but some things haven’t as Patrician III is still the best game of its type. Patrician IV has been created by the core members who were responsible for Patrician III so there was a lot of expectation for the game. However, Patrician IV is a game that sees the series take more of a sideways step than a step forward.
As in the other Patrician titles you start off as a simple grocer at the humble beginnings of the Hanseatic League. You’ll start off by buying goods that are easily produced in your home town and trading them in other far off destinations for a profit whilst bringing home goods that can be sold at an expensive price. As you rise through the ranks you’ll be able to purchase privileges which will allow you to build your own production buildings, you’ll found new outposts, lend a hand in the development of the various towns and setup counting offices in multiple ports (and upset your rival traders as you begin to put the financial squeeze on them). You’ll also be able to join the Hanseatic Council and even make your way up to the position of Alderman. Of course there are those pesky pirates to deal with and the distraction of exploring the Mediterranean to discover exotic goods too.
In Patrician III you had three campaigns and four missions as well as a free play mode. Patrician IV disappoints by only having a single campaign which is essentially a rather huge tutorial in addition to a free play mode. Yes, the free play mode will keep you busy for a long time but it would have been great to have had at least one other campaign and some themed missions to play through. The game also has its share of bugs. Sheep farms are currently called Heep farms and even if you choose to play as a female trader you are still told that you need to find a wife. Probably the biggest disappointment of all is how little the game has changed since Patrician III. Patrician IV is a fine game in many respects and I would hope that through future expansions the game certainly will become a more satisfying experience, but at present it does little that Patrician III didn’t do.
The user interface, for the most part is easier to get to grips with than in Patrician III. It’s now possible to trade without having to switch to the 3D view of the port which helps to keep the game flowing at a brisk pace (however it should be noted that it doesn’t take much time at all to switch from the main map to the 3D view of the port). I do think setting up a trade route could have been a little simpler. I struggled with it to begin with and couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong as my ships weren’t picking up any goods. Once I found out where I was going wrong it was all smooth sailing (if you’ll pardon the intentional pun) but it shouldn’t have been so awkward to begin with. You could also argue that several of the icons used on the map screen could definitely be larger for those of us who don’t have eyesight that’s as keen as an eagle’s. For the most part however, I think the user interface is a big step forward and is definitely more inviting for newcomers to the series than previous games were.
There will come a time when you have to defend yourself (or choose to attack to satisfy assignment conditions) against pirates. The naval battles in Patrician IV feel like a big step backwards. Not only are they longwinded, you never feel like you’re in full control of your convoy. The battles are so disappointing that you may be tempted to leave them to the AI to auto-resolve. This would be a bad idea however as the AI tends to favour your enemies and you’ll find yourself losing battles that you should really have won.
The one area where Patrician IV is head and shoulders above its predecessor is in the visual quality of the game. Certainly the visuals for each of the ports in the game are quite impressive and it’s great the way in which they are depicted through the various seasons. The map screen isn’t as detailed as it could have been however and looks rather bland which is unfortunate as it’s possible to spend more time on this screen thanks to the better user interface that the game has.
Patrician IV certainly does have a few problems where deaf gamers are concerned. The game comes with plenty of tutorial videos which explain how to do a wide range of things in the game. However none of these tutorial videos are subtitled. None of the game’s cut scenes are subtitled and the various messages you receive from rival traders, such as when you drive them out of business, are also without subtitles making them pretty much worthless for deaf gamers. These omissions are a real shame because in other respects the game doesn’t pose any problems for deaf gamers. You are always aware of what needs to be done and your objectives can be recalled at any time by accessing the game’s Logbook. In general the game does a good job of notifying you visually of things that need your attention. It’s just a shame that you’re missing out on important tutorial information and the comments of your rival traders.
When you think how good Patrician III was for its time it’s inevitable that fans of the series would have hoped that Patrician IV would have been a better game. In truth it’s not a better game. On the whole it’s still a very enjoyable experience and one that is capable of swallowing big chunks of your time. Some aspects of the game have improved, most remain the same and some, such as the naval battles, have gone backwards. The interface is certainly more user friendly and it’s great to be able to trade without having to view the port screen. The auto-trading options are fiddly to get to grips with but do work well too and the various ports have never looked better. However, there’s only a single campaign and the core experience doesn’t feel as though it’s moved forward at all. Naval combat feels more awkward and favourable to the AI should you choose to auto-resolve the battles. Essentially it feels more like a remake rather than a fully realised sequel. There’s enough here to satisfy those who wanted a more modern looking Patrician game and it has to be said that the interface is generally better than in previous games. However, there’s not enough here for it to knock Patrician III off the top of the pile.